“Heart-breaking” is how Safe Harbour Society’s Kath Hoffman described Tuesday’s cleanup blitz in a screened enclosure behind the shelter at Cannery Row Bingo.
The area set aside for residents, fenced and screened about a month ago at the city’s direction, provides a place for shelter clients to gather and enjoy a little privacy while also doing their best to make it less intrusive for neighbours.
“The privacy screening has done what council had hoped it would do and that is just to make all of that not so visible,” said Hoffman, the society’s executive director. “And I think businesses around us for the most part have appreciated that. I think some of the complaints have gone down because that privacy screening is on that fence.”
However, the fenced area had some unintended — and perhaps not entirely unpredictable — consequences.
Some began to treat it is a more permanent home and tents and other structures started to pop up. Besides not being the intention of the site, it posed a danger to clients themselves, who might have been in trouble inside their makeshift homes without anyone knowing.
“Our team has been constantly outside trying to get people to get their tents down. They’ve been successful but then they just go up again over night. So, it’s been a constant struggle,” said Hoffman.
Warnings had been issued to those who had set up tents and on Tuesday, Hoffman and other Safe Harbour, city and security staff, were joined by RCMP as part of a cleanup effort.
“It went very well. People have been complying and taking the tents down,” said Hoffman. A no-trespassing order is now in place and residents warned tents will be taken down again if necessary.
According to the City of Red Deer, Safe Harbour approached the city for support in the safe removal of the tents.
“Those who were tenting on the private property were provided with advance notice and support, in accordance with our urban encampment best practices,” said Erin Stuart, general manager, development and protective services.
“There is adequate space and support within the temporary shelter for those individuals. The city will continue to follow legislative requirements in accordance with development permit compliance, as with all development permits issued throughout the community. Safe Harbour is in the process of compliance with the development permit issued in January 2022 for Cannery Row.”
Hoffman noted that an elder joined her and performed a sweet grass smudge ceremony as they walked about and chatted with people on Tuesday.
While she admits being annoyed at the mess at first, her heart went out to those she met, saw how they responded to the elder’s prayers, and how they had tried to create a small place of their own.
“It was just really, really sad,” she said. “Even one guy said, ‘Well, I’m all packed up. Where am I going now?’”
While there is a temporary shelter only a few metres away, for some having their own tent outside, where they have privacy and a place to smoke or, unfortunately in some cases, feed the addictions that have left them on the fringes.
“I was watching them all pack up and was thinking this is now just going to get spread all round the city now. They will find a new place to camp. You can’t win. Our anticipate our outreach teams are going to be busier with camps around the city now.”
Meanwhile, Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston and members of council were in Calgary on Tuesday meeting with provincial ministers and staff to put the finishing touches on an announcement, expected Thursday, for a permanent shelter site in Red Deer.
Hoffman said it is hoped a well-staffed site will be able to provide the addictions and mental health help that will give them the chance to put a life sleeping in shelters or tents behind them.
“It’s just really, really said that we have so many sick people, but until they’re looking for treatment or recovery, what we can do them is minimal.
“And everybody across the country, in any urban centre that is dealing with this is dealing with the same issues. How do we do this better?”